‘Deadpool’ Scribes Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick On This Awards Season’s Biggest Surprise Candidate

In a year filled with high achievements in entertainment, the Ryan Reynolds-starring Marvel film Deadpool was among the greatest and most surprising; and while T.J. Miller’s Weasel thinks it sounds like a “f*cking franchise,” to writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the extent of the film’s success was as startling as it was to anyone else. Released February 12 with a typically tongue-in-cheek Valentine’s marketing campaign, the movie about the “merc with a mouth” went on to gross over $783 million at the worldwide box office, going on to receive two Critics’ Choice Awards and two Golden Globe nominations, in addition to recognitions by the WGA, PGA, and American Cinema Editors.

Getting on the phone with Deadline, the writers share their feelings about the film’s overwhelming reception, the most gratifying moments found throughout the six-year process—as writers and executive producers on the project—and what’s to come in the next year or two with Deadpool 2.

What is it like to see the way Deadpool has been received—to see the film earn Golden Globe, WGA and other nominations, in addition to far exceeding box office expectations?

Paul Wernick: It’s really surreal. We’re pinching ourselves. Rhett and I have always wanted to don the tuxedos, and have a prestige play, and who would have thought that this would’ve been it? Self-deprecating, self-loathing anti-hero, who makes makes fart jokes, and swears, and does bad things.

The other crazy thing is, how rare is it that a movie that made $783 million is kind of the underdog of the award season? [Laughs] It’s rare that a movie like this, that’s generally considered a popcorn type movie, gets recognized among such serious, great fare. So, it’s both surprising and exciting, and unexpected, and yet, so gratifying.

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What do you think it means for what is classified as a genre film to make waves in awards season to this degree?

Rhett Reese:  I think it is a genre film, but in a lot of ways I think it feels like the anti-genre film, in that it’s very often subversive and taking the stuffing out of these big movies, as often as it is actually being one of them.

It’s hard to think of it as an underdog next to smaller budgeted movies, but next to the movies it competes with, it kind of was an underdog. It was a low budget studio movie of this kind. It took six years of uphill pushing to get the movie made. It’s R-rated, it’s very meta. It takes a fair amount of chances in the space it’s in, I think, both in the way it’s told, and just the nature of the character.

It’s like the little movie that could, except I guess, it’s a big little movie that could. Particularly at this time of year, when you tend to see movies that are sort of classy, and they’re message movies. They tend to have a point, and they tend to make political points, and this just couldn’t be further from.

You struck a challenging tonal balance with this film.

Wernick: I don’t think it fits into one particular tone. Life is not one tone: you laugh and you cry, and your heart breaks, and you have great, great happiness. So I think more than anything, we tried to ground it in real life and make people feel that they were watching a real, grounded story.

It’s hard to say that this movie is grounded; you’ve got a mutant running around in red tights. But in a lot of ways, this movie is about a broken man, who has terminal cancer, who loses the love of his life and tries to get her back, and in the midst of all the tragedy, he finds laughs, and he hides behind that tragedy with humor. I think the audience has latched into this as feeling very real, that is wasn’t some silly, silly movie that told jokes all the time, and it wasn’t some dark movie that stayed dark all the time.

It’s hard to do. It’s hard to mix those tones effectively, and not feel inconsistent, and I think that’s allowed. Deadpool’s a character who does break all the rules, just by virtue of breaking the fourth wall, and not only understanding he’s in a movie, but acknowledging it, and all the pop culture references. It does break all the rules.

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One challenging aspect to crafting any kind of action film is writing long action sequences in granular detail. How did you approach your action here?

Reese: We take pride in writing very specific action, and action that has both scope and scale, but also has personality in it. Generally, personality is found in the details, right? As opposed to the larger things. So, as opposed to the armies running around fighting on mountaintops, it’s found in the individual kick or punch, or what they say while they’re doing it. We always try to work in personality and character into action.

I think probably, a good example would be that 12-bullet scene that starts Deadpool. Every bullet he fires out of that gun, we made very specific. He fires each bullet for a reason, sometimes good rational reasons, and sometimes stupid irrational reasons that help define who he is. We literally broke that scene down to every single fired bullet, and I think every single bullet that he shoots tells a little miniature story, and that tends to be our approach.

Now as you know, once you get a director, a stunt coordinator, a stunt man, and locations, action does tend to change. But to the extent that we can, we do try to direct the action on the page, or at least give the reader a vision of what it could look like, and we do break it down to its most irreducible elements.

Wernick: On this movie, because it was a fraction of what most superhero movies cost, we were forced to be creative with the action as well. Necessity is the mother of invention.

You didn’t just turn in a script either. What was the most rewarding part outside of the writing?

Reese: We really did enjoy being on set. By virtue of being producers, and by virtue of the extending nature of our star and our director, we got to be on set everyday. We got to watch Tim shoot the movie, and occasionally mention ways we thought it might be slightly different. With Ryan Reynolds, we got a chance to watch him improvise with the likes of T.J.­­ Miller, and Karan Soni. You had a front row seat to these really, really funny people performing. I also got to contribute in the moment as we were coming up with alts. Then also, in post-production we were involved, looking at edits and seeing if we could make funnier, or fill them with more heart. I really think we got window into a larger experience.

Wernick: I think one of the more gratifying moments was at Comic-Con when they first debuted the little trailer that we did. The audience, these were our people. It’s that one quadrant that we knew we were gonna hit, but God we had to hit it right. When we showed that footage, and Hall H at Comic-Con gave us a standing ovation, we looked at each other and there were tears streaming down our faces. This was just such a passion of ours. We believed in it so very much, and were beating the drum for so long, and were told “No” for so long, that finally having shot something, and then been able to put it in front of people, and have the reception that it had. It was so incredibly gratifying for us.

It made it all worth it, because there are times through the process that you just think, “Is this all worth it?” It’s very, very difficult to get a movie made, and it’s very difficult to get a movie made that turns out well, and that fans love, and that the marketing gets right. So everything kind of fell into place.

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Where in the process are you with Deadpool 2 at the moment? Is it still a stand-alone sequel for the character?

Reese: Yeah, it’ll be a solo movie. It’ll be populated with a lot of characters, but it is still Deadpool’s movie, this next one. We’re pushing forward very hard. I think by every account we will shoot it this year, and we’re on our multiple draft now. It’s taken different twists and turns, but it’s really coalescing, and we’re very, very excited. We’re a little nervous, because now we feel like we have to live up to the first movie, but at the same time, we have to have faith, and we have an extreme passion still, and as long as we have passion still, and it’s not a mercenary, venal play, which we don’t think this is, I think we’ll be in good shape.

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You made reference Cable in the post-credits scene on this movie; did you always expect to get a sequel?

Wernick: We were like the athlete who guarantees victory before the game. [Laughs] It’s a world that’s so rich and we always thought Cable should be in the sequel. There was always debate whether to put him in the original, and it felt like we needed to set up Deadpool and create his world first, and then bring those characters into his world in the next one.

How do you think Deadpool would suit the larger X-Men universe?

Reese: It hasn’t been planned yet, but I don’t think it would be too hard to drop Deadpool into another movie. We’re used to watching straight man protagonists who are surrounded by comic relief sidekicks; what we weren’t sure would work was if you could take a movie and make the lunatic, crazy person the protagonist, and surround him with more sane, normal people. That was our goal when we introduced the X-Men into Deadpool’s world, so we put Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in there, and they’re clearly much more serious characters; in particular, Colossus, who’s a bit of a square. He’s very un-ironic; to take him and drop him as a foil opposite Deadpool, who’s the crazy unreliable narrator at the center of your story, it really was an experiment, and we think it worked. There was enough sanity surrounding Deadpool’s insanity that it balanced pretty nicely. I think you could probably take Deadpool the way they did with Spider-Man in Civil War and drop him into a serious movie and it might work, but only time will tell.

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This movie doesn’t exist without that footage leak of a few years back. What did that teach you?

Reese: I mean, Hollywood is nothing if not imitated. So, we hope that there will be good lessons drawn from this, and yet at the same time, I think if there is a lesson in this movie, it’s that there are no lessons. One of the reasons Deadpool got made and does exist is because we didn’t really look at any of the movies before us and try to draw lessons from them. We just tried to chart our own path, and make something that was fun for us, and that was original, and fresh.

I think the minute that people start looking at Deadpool and saying how can we recreate that is the minute they’ve already failed. I think everybody needs to be pursuing their own their course. We charted a very specific one, and rather than try to do another hardcore, R-rated, funny, silly, super hero movie, I think everyone should just be looking to find out what’s that next original thing, if that makes sense.

Wernick: We’ve always wondered who leaked that test footage. There’s really been only four suspects—it’s been myself, Rhett, Ryan [Reynolds], and [director] Tim [Miller], but a new suspect has emerged, and we’re gonna give you the scoop on this. It’s Putin, actually; Vladimir Putin leaked the test footage for Deadpool. [Laughs]

I do think it does open it up—since corporations and stockholders took over movie studios, there’s always been this idea that you need to make these four quadrant movies. There was always the fear that this was a movie that would appeal to one quadrant—the fanboys—and I think that’s partly why this movie took so long to get green lit. I do think Deadpool’s proven that if you write something original and fresh, that the audiences will come in all forms and fashions, and what would traditionally be a one quadrant movie ended up being a four quadrant movie.

The movie tested higher with women than it did with men, interestingly, so I do think hopefully this will allow studios to not have to check all the boxes to get a green light. You go with passion and you go with gut a little bit more, and you don’t have to look at a form and go, “OK, there’s an F-word in it, so you can cross off the kids.”